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Search for new CSU provost underway

October 25, 2012

By Samah Assad

Cleveland State has been in the midst of a rigorous search process for a long-term provost.

In recent years, the position of provost, who heads the academic side of the university, has lacked stability. The position became vacant in summer 2011 after Geoffrey Mearns resigned following his appointment as the president of Northern Kentucky University.

Mearns, then the dean of the law school, was elevated to the position in the interim and later named provost in 2010 after Dr. Mary Jane Saunders resigned and later became the president of Florida Atlantic University. Currently the position is being held in the interim by Dr. George Walker.

The provost search committee has finalized the job description and is devising a leadership statement, which is a broad document that provides candidates with a brief background story on the university.

Byron White, vice president of Engagement, said the process is a two-way street. White is the co-chair of the search committee along with Professor Rachel Carnell from the Department of English.

Members of the committee are not only searching for candidates, but also looking to attract applicants by exciting them about the job.

“On one hand we’re trying to pick candidates who are best for the job, but we’re also trying to entice highly qualified candidates to look at us,” White said.

The university provost, who is the chief academic and operating officer, oversees the university’s entire academic enterprise. The provost is involved in strategic planning, budgeting and facilities that impact the institution in all academic aspects. Deans, student affairs, the library, and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies report to the provost when necessary. Having a long term provost is imperative as Cleveland State is undertaking major transformations, such as recruiting a larger freshman class and improving retention and graduation rates.

A search for a national firm jumpstarted the selection process three months ago. The search committee selected R. William Funk & Associates, a firm located in Dallas, TX, to help with the search. An experienced firm that exclusively focuses on higher education, R. William Funk & Associates will find a broad pool of interested candidates through accepting applications and identifying individuals who are best qualified for the position. Generally, 40 or 50 candidates will be chosen. The firm has run advertisements nationally in publications, such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, and has already received inquiries from many interested applicants.

With the provost being an extremely significant position that heavily impacts the university, President Berkman appointed a 17-member search committee in an effort to include various perspectives in the search and help facilitate the process. He met with the committee a month ago to describe what he, as the chief executive of the university, believes to be the most important attributes in an excellent provost for a mid-size urban school. However, Berkman is not the only person who has a say in the selection process. Staff, faculty, deans, vice presidents and one student are all on the committee to give voice to the perspectives of different stakeholders on campus.

The president believes that in the past searches, students’ voices were not adequately represented, and to enhance student participation he appointed the president of Student Government Association, Mo Al Bitar, on the search committee.

“I think [students] have a different lens and a different perspective,” Berkman explained, “and I hope they’ll inject that in the process.”

According to White, the constitution of the search committee changed as Berkman decided to expand the committee and add more faculty members to this year’s search as well.

“We ended up with a very strong committee I believe is well equipped to make a solid decision,” White said.

Berkman added that the expansion of the committee was driven by the need for a broader representation of teaching and research faculty.

“Given the importance of this position, I wanted to assure that all constituencies were well represented,” he said.

SGA has already held two student forums regarding the provost search on campus, one on Oct. 3 and the other on Oct. 11. The third forum was meant to be on Oct. 15, but was cancelled due to President Barack Obama’s campaign rally at Cleveland State. At the two forums, about 200 total students gathered to give their input on qualities they are looking for in a provost.

Al Bitar stressed the necessity of conveying students’ opinions when it comes to deciding important university decisions, especially when it comes to selecting a provost whose decisions will directly impact students.

“For the first time [the search committee] has a student rep, and student government is always in the picture trying to convey what the students want,” Al Bitar said. “We believe it’s our job to really make sure the students are represented and consulted in any decision that will affect their academic and non-academic lives at the university.”

Al Bitar stated that students’ responses varied from areas of technology, parking and safety on campus. SGA devised a list that was divided into two sections — expectations and qualities/characteristics students are looking for in a provost.

“We captured a lot of valid and valuable input from students that we think is definitely going to help the committee in making a decision when it comes to candidates,” Al Bitar said.

Faculty and staff on the committee also held a forum on Oct. 11 to compile a list of desired and preferred qualifications that they are looking for in an ideal candidate for the position of the provost.

The entire committee will meet on Oct. 23 to combine the input they gathered and discuss the process by which the top 10 candidates will be chosen. The meeting in which the committee comes to consensus about the 10 finalists will take place in early December. The committee will hold airport interviews with the candidates and will then recommend three or four candidates for campus visits. The candidates will meet faculty, staff and community members. Berkman will take their feedback into consideration and utilize it when making his final decision for who will be provost.

Berkman said the committee is essentially looking for someone who not only carries a breadth of experience and understanding of complex institutions, but can also provide academic leadership and innovation to campus.

“We’re looking for someone who has a good eye for talent who knows how to recruit deans and other positions in academic affairs,” Berkman said.

He added that finding candidates that are interested in employment for the long-term is a crucial factor in the search process.

Although White said that the national average for provosts to hold a position is four and a half years, the last two positions were held for no more than three years each before both provosts went on to take presidencies at other universities.

Berkman said that although eventually taking on presidencies is a traditional path for provosts, the university is seeking a candidate that is willing to make a longer commitment.

“There are lots of provosts that go on to take presidencies, but that’s not ideal,” Berkman said. “We should definitely try to find someone who’s looking to make a five-year commitment.”

Dec. 1 is the soft deadline in which the committee will begin reviewing candidates. Berkman hopes a candidate will be selected by April 2013 and the position will be filled in August.